Anxious Lawmakers Brace for Release of Census Redistricting Data

  • States will use it to begin drawing congressional lines
  • Some House members more vulnerable to gerrymander

House members dread years ending in “2,” when new congressional maps are implemented. It’s time to start sweating again, as the line-drawing process begins now.

The Census Bureau’s release Thursday of in-depth population data means state legislatures and redistricting commissions can begin crafting new district lines to be used for the next decade. Many House members will have to run in unfamiliar terrain, putting them at risk of losing their seats in either the primary or the general election.

With Democrats protecting a five-seat House majority and Republicans in charge of redrawing more congressional maps, both parties are likely to be aggressive where they can against the opposition’s incumbents. In most states, partisan legislators and governors control the line-drawing process, and their goal is to secure as many seats as possible for their party. Republicans have the final authority to redraw 187 districts compared with 75 for Democrats. Commissions and states with partisan splits draw the rest.

“Republicans just have more power to gerrymander right now, and I think they’re going to use that power to the best of their abilities,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “And so if Democrats can find places to squeeze out extra seats, they’re probably going to feel the pressure to do so.”

Some House members will choose to retire or run for other political office ahead of redistricting. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) is running for governor in 2022 in lieu of a re-election campaign that could have been imperiled by Republican-controlled redistricting. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) is running for the Senate, vacating a Mahoning Valley district Republican legislators could dismantle.

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Here’s a sampling of House incumbents currently seeking re-election who probably will be targeted in redistricting by state legislatures led by the opposite party.

Photos by Elizabeth Frantz/Bloomberg; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/Bloomberg; Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Reps. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.)

Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.): Illinois is losing one congressional seat in reapportionment, and Democrats in charge of line-drawing might ax two Republicans, turning the state’s currently 18-district map into 14 districts safe for Democrats and three safe for Republicans.

A Democratic proposal floating around Springfield would blow up Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s 16th District, forcing the six-term anti-Donald Trump Republican to square off against a fellow GOP incumbent in the 2022 midterms or not run for the House again.

Kinzinger, who’s garnered the ire of the former president for voting in favor of Trump’s second impeachment and for sitting on a panel investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, wouldn’t be alone on the chopping block. And a Democratic plan, uncovered by Crain’s Chicago Business, would siphon Republicans out of Rep. Rodney Davis’ 13th District.

Sharice Davids (D-Kan.): Last year Kansas Republicans pledged to “take out” Rep. Sharice Davids by gerrymandering her 3rd District into a safe Republican seat if they could retain supermajorites in both chambers of the state legislature.

That time has come. The strong GOP showing in 2020 gave Republicans the power to force new maps over the veto of Gov. Laura Kelly (D) and create four safe Republican districts.

Defeating Davids, who is one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, will require cutting up the Kansas City metropolitan district that Davids carried by 10 points and 41,000 votes last year. But Republicans will have to ensure their design isn’t moving too many Democrats into the neighboring 2nd District, in which Rep. Jake LaTurner (R) prevailed by 14.5 points and roughly 49,000 votes in November.

Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.): Blue Dog Democrats are a vanishing breed, and Republicans in Tennessee are looking to expedite this extinction by unseating Rep. Jim Cooper.

Cooper, a lawyer and former Vanderbilt University professor, has represented the Nashville area for two decades and won by healthy margins. But Tennessee has retained nine congressional seats through the 2020 census at a time when Nashville’s population has boomed.

That means Republicans could split the metropolis into four districts, endangering Cooper’s hold on the live music mecca by adding conservative suburban and rural voters to his new district.

Photos by Dustin Chambers/Bloomberg; Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.) and Lucy McBath (D-Ga.)

Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.): The Republican-controlled state legislature holds the redistricting power in Georgia. There are several paths they can take to push back against Democrats’ success up and down in the ticket in the Atlanta suburbs, which delivered narrow statewide victories for Joe Biden and Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, along with a pair of House seats.

Rep. Lucy McBath was re-elected to a second term in 2020, as Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D) won for the first time in a neighboring district. But they carried the 6th and 7th districts by fewer than 50,000 votes combined, so both would be vulnerable to even subtle shifts in the borders.

The GOP could pair up these congresswomen in the same district, or, as Georgia GOP strategist Phil Kent put it on a local Fox TV interview: “We’ve got a chunk of Republican voters we can put back in the 6th. We can pull them from elsewhere.”

Photos by Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg; Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Reps. Andy Harris (R-Md.) and Chris Pappas (D-N.H.)

Andy Harris (R-Md.): The lone Republican in Maryland’s eight-member House delegation, Rep. Andy Harris has antagonized Democrats with a strongly conservative voting record that includes siding with Trump to sustain objections to the 2020 election results. Democrats have supermajorities in the state legislature to target Harris and enact an 8-0 Democratic map over a veto from Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

While Harris now represents a safely Republican eastern shore district where Biden won 39% of the vote in the 2020 election, there are lots of Democratic voters in Maryland who could be shifted into his district to make it Democratic-leaning. Biden won between 61% and 78% of the vote in each of Maryland’s other seven districts, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Government.

An 8-0 map would require Democratic incumbents to accept new territory and reduced Democratic majorities. With the Supreme Court ruling in 2019 that partisan gerrymandering claims can’t be brought in federal courts, Republicans could try to block a Democratic gerrymander in the Maryland Court of Appeals, where Hogan appointees account for a majority of the judges who sit on the state’s highest judicial panel.

Chris Pappas (D-N.H.): Controlling the governorship and legislature put Republicans in charge of redrawing the two districts in New Hampshire, where the southeastern coastal 1st District has been the more politically competitive. Rep. Chris Pappas was re-elected 51%-46% in 2020 — comparable to Biden’s 52%-46% win in the 1st — marking the eighth straight House election there in which the winner took less than 55% of the vote.

One option for Republican cartographers: shift Manchester, Pappas’ hometown and the state’s most populous city, into the 2nd. Manchester voted 56%-42% for Biden over Trump in the 2020 election and gave Pappas an 8,308-vote cushion, compared to his 20,447-vote win district-wide. Strongly pro-Trump communities just east of Nashua and Concord could be moved into the 1st.

Targeting Pappas would require Republicans to effectively concede the 2nd, which takes in northern and western New Hampshire and has voted a little more Democratic than the 1st. Rep. Annie Kuster (D) has won her five House races in the 2nd with margins of victory between 4 and 13 points, including a 10-point win in 2020.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Ebert in Columbus, Ohio at aebert@bloomberglaw.com; Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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